Monday, June 27, 2011

The Wife of Asdrubal

Hemans’ “The Wife of Asdrubal” begins with a city on fire. Hemans states, “O’er Afric’s heaven the flames of Carthage throw; / . . . The sculptured altar, and the pillar’d hall, / Shine out in dreadful brightness ere they fall” (lines 2-8).

From the midst of these destructive sights, Asdrubal’s wife appears to look down on the city and the people her husband has destroyed. Hemans writes, “But mark! From yon fair temple’s loftiest height / What towering form bursts wildly on the sight, / All regal in magnificent attire, . . . / A being more than earthly, in whose eye / There dwells a strange and fierce ascendancy” (lines 15-23). From both her position and the description of her eyes, Asdrubal’s wife is on a plane above the chaos her husband has caused. From her perch, her children surround her. They seek both protection and comfort from her as their home burns around them. Hemans writes, “Are those her infants, that with suppliant-cry / Cling round her, shrinking as the flame draws nigh, . . . / Is that a mother’s glance, where stern disdain, / And passion awfully vindictive, reign?” (lines 33-38). Hemans questions whether she looks like a mother in this instant, and I would say no. By this point, she knows what her husband has done. She knows she and her children will not survive, and she is focused on Asdrubal. “Fix’d is her eye on Asdrubal, who stands, / Ignobly safe, amidst the conquering bands; / On him, who left her to that burning tomb, / Alone to share her children’s martyrdom” (lines 39-42). Asdrubal’s wife curses him for the part he has played in their deaths; she shouts, “Scorn’d and dishonour’d, live!—with blasted name, / . . . Still may the manes of thy children rise / To chase calm slumber from thy wearied eyes; / Still may their voices on the haunted air / In fearful whispers tell thee to despair, / Till vain remorse thy wither-d heart consume, / Scourged by relentless shadows of the tomb!” (lines 47-56). Asdrubal’s actions have killed her children, and his wife wants that knowledge to burn him alive as well. At the same time she wishes these horrors upon her husband, she refuses to let her children suffer.

At this point, Asdrubal’s wife says, “Think’st thou I love them not? . . . / ‘Tis mine with these to suffer and to die. / Behold their fate!—the arms that cannot save / Have been their cradle, and shall be their grave” (lines 59-62). Here, Asdrubal’s wife again acknowledges their fate but refuses to condemn her children to the end her husband has chosen for them. Her focus shifts back to her children. In a final act of love and mercy, she kills them. In those final moments, “With frantic laugh she clasps them to the breast / Whose woes and passions soon shall be at rest; / Lifts one appealing, frenzied glance on high, / Then deep midst rolling flames is lost to mortal eye” (lines 65-69). She saves them just in time—as they take their final breaths, the flames consume her. To me, the ending is one of absolute redeeming love. It seems as if she has just a moment or two left. Instead of saving herself from a painful death like Asdrubal did, his wife spends her last moments ensuring that her children do not suffer. In addition, she looks to heaven “frenzied” and “appealing” for forgiveness as she dies—an action Asdrubal never takes.


Today’s reports of the wars America is fighting present a confusing muddle of information. We are making no headway in separating the good from the bad. Some media sources praise our soldiers for their exploits while portraying our enemies as heartless killers. Some sources claim we are causing problems among innocent men and women. Most of these messages are presented as absolute. You should either believe one viewpoint or the other. There exists no continuum of beliefs—just a black or white vision of events. While Siegfried Sassoon’s views were rejected in his time, he presents a clear separation between the views of the civilians and the soldiers. At the same time, Sassoon’s consideration of the men and women on both sides of the war makes up the gray area today’s media seems to ignore.

Sassoon begins with the public extolling the courage and success of the soldiers. He writes, “You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave, / Or wounded in a mentionable place. / You worship decorations; you believe / That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace” (lines 1-4). After chastising the public for their beliefs, Sassoon goes on to describe the “war’s disgrace” in two parts. First, Sassoon states, “You make us shells. You listen with delight, / By tales of dirt and danger fondly thrilled. / You crown our distant ardours while we fight” (lines 5-7). Here, Sassoon recognizes the discrepancy in the views of the public and the soldiers. As the soldiers are on the battlefields killing each other, the public is “thrilled” by the danger and bravery of the stories. But Sassoon adds reality into the mix by saying, “You can’t believe that British troops ‘retire’ / When hell’s last horror breaks them, and they run, / Trampling the terrible corpses—blind with blood” (lines 9-11). Perhaps partly due to propaganda and partly due to a desire to see progress and goodness in the midst of loss, the public ignores the reality of retreats and death. What Sassoon reminds his readers is that retreat happens to all men eventually. The soldiers are the only ones seeing the reality of the war, the killing, and the retreats. As he points out, the public refuses to see the horror, the blood, and the moral dilemmas soldiers face. The public can ignore the feelings of disgrace and hopelessness that can accompany killing another woman’s son, but the soldiers see the pain and loss of life on both sides of the battlefield. This discrepancy points to the second disgrace.

The men in both armies have mothers, fathers, siblings, wives, and children back home. As hard as the propaganda ministries may work to demonize the enemy, those soldiers are still men. While English mothers celebrate the bravery of their sons, their sons are out killing other women’s children. One of the reasons this poem may not have been accepted when it was published is that it forces readers to acknowledge humanity on both sides of the war. Sassoon writes, “O German mother dreaming by the fire, / While you are knitting socks to send your son / His face is trodden deeper in the mud” (lines 12-15). Here, the mother knits and dreams of her son with pride and a mother’s pure love even as he is dead and decaying face down in the mud.

Hopkins' view of God

In both “Pied Beauty” and “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates the variability of God’s creations and the wonder of his work. Each poem begins by listing out numerous creatures designed by God. In “Pied Beauty”, Hopkins notes with wonder the sheer number of things God has made that have spots. He writes, “Glory be to God for dappled things— / For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow; / For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; / Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches wings; . . . “ (page 775). The variety of creatures continues with “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” with winged animals like dragonflies and kingfishers. For Hopkins, the variability of God’s creations point to the power and wonder of his work.

The kingfisher poem takes Hopkins’ views a step farther to explore the relationship between God and creation. Hopkins sees the relationship as an open one. He writes, “the just man justices; / Keeps grace; that keeps all his goings graces; / Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is” (page 777). As much as human beings can deceive and hide from one another, Hopkins’ God can see through every disguise to the true nature of the creatures he has made. Hopkins describes God as someone who can see everyone for what they truly are.

In addition, God is portrayed as being everywhere. He is revealed in all places and among the faces of all of his creations. Hopkins states, “ for Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men’s faces” (page 777). In this poem, God’s power is revealed to us in the infinite number of human faces. For Hopkins, the wonder and majesty of God can be found in nature all around him. He sees every living thing as one of God’s creations.

For Hopkins, the many faces of humanity seem to artistically represent God’s power. Oddly, many Islamic religious groups refuse to use human features in their artwork for fear of creating idolatrous images. Instead, they use tessellations and geographic designs to show God’s infinite power. However, even the difference in these two viewpoints seems to further Hopkins’ original point—God created an enormous range of creatures with different appearances, thoughts, and feelings, and the individual differences we see are merely further examples of God’s power.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lewis and the "Vorticist Manifesto"

For the author of section 6 of the “Vorticist Manifesto”, industrialism and modern life have transformed England and brought every region of the world together. Lewis begins by referring to his time period as “The Modern World” (page 1095). To me, the capitalization seems to suggest that the author considers this world to be entirely different from anything that came before it, and it “is due almost entirely to Anglo-Saxon genius. . . . Machinery, trains, steam-ships, all that distinguishes externally out time, came far more from here than anywhere else”. This machinery, coal mining, industrialization, and work-centered way of life in England quickly spread throughout Europe. Lewis writes, “But busy with this LIFE-EFFORT, [England] has been the last to become conscious of the Art that is an organism of this new Order and Will of Man.” For Lewis, the economic gains that have lead to the “new Order” have blinded England to the resulting artistic changes. Lewis sees drastic changes occurring in art forms and state, “Machinery is the greatest Earth-medium: incidentally it sweeps away the doctrines of a narrow and pedantic Realism at one stroke.” Building on these changes from the traditional poetry and writings from England, the Blast authors promote lists, new forms, capitalization, and bolded words.

But the widespread affects of industrialized England do not stop with art. Lewis sees the affects across the rapidly shrinking globe; “By mechanical inventiveness, too, just as Englishmen have spread themselves all over the Earth, they have brought all the hemispheres about them in their original island.” Areas that once appeared a great distance away could be reached in a matter of hours. Trade with far off shores became a realistic goal. Travel became more economical. All at once, the steam engines and new transportation bring distant countries and undiscovered civilizations into frequent contact with England. Lewis says, “It cannot be said that the complication of the Jungle, dramatic tropic growths, the vastness of American trees, is not for us. For, in the forms of machinery, Factories, new and vaster buildings, bridges and works, we have all that, naturally, around us.” As a result of machinery and industrialization, England is becoming a more interactive and wide-reaching nation. Lewis feels that the whole world is within reach for an English citizen, and he believes the industrial focus has changed not only that but also the way people view the artistic process.

Oddly, the same machinery, industrialization, and travel that brought the world together were huge contributors to the nature of World War 1. However, the start of WW1 put a stop to Lewis’ vision of modern literature. It seems to me that the very factors Lewis considered to have changed art were also the factors that destroyed its chances of being recognized—at least as far as Blast is concerned!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

John Stuart Mill

Because we live in a time where even the smallest children have rights, I think it is fascinating to look back to a time where neither women nor children had lasting individual rights. In John Stuart Mill’s “Statement Repudiating the Rights of Husbands”, men control the rights of their children and their wives. While it is not completely clear, I would assume that for female children, fathers control their rights up until the time that they marry—unless they reach their majority without marrying. Mill makes it sound as if adult women lose any legal rights to sign contracts or own property when they marry. So while it is possible for women to have some rights, they are not permanent. In describing his marriage contract, Mill states, “[marriage] confers upon one of the parties to the contract, legal power and control over the person, property, and freedom of action of the other party, independent of her own wishes and will” (page 527). Mill sees this state of affairs as a great injustice affecting millions of people.

Unlike other authors who may have referenced similar problems, Mill offers a unique method of persuasion. He does not present himself as just another writer complaining about the inequality of society. He is someone who has experienced the situation and offers a method for correcting the problem on a small scale. He does not overtly tell society that they are wrong and need to change their ways. Using word choice and tone, Mill acknowledges the problem marriage presents and suggests a method for reinstating women’s rights on an individual scale. He writes, “I, having no means of legally divesting myself of these odious powers . . . , feel it my duty to put on record a formal protest against the existing law of marriage, in so far as conferring powers; and a solemn promise never in any case or under any circumstances to use them” (page 527). Describing the powers society bestows on husbands as “odious” shows that Mill feels strongly on the subject without directly telling society that it is at fault. At the same time, Mill makes the issue a very public one by putting “on record a formal protest” and a “solemn promise”. He appears to understand legal rights will not immediately change for the country; he merely proposes that husbands work individually to alter their wives’ legal rights.

To support his suggestions, Mill publically provides a model for others to emulate. He ends his paragraph by declaring his intentions toward his betrothed. He says, “in the event of marriage between Mrs. Taylor and me I declare it to be my will and intention, and the condition of the engagement between us, that she retains in all respects whatever the same absolute freedom of action, and freedom of disposal of herself and of all that does or may at any time belong to her, as if no such marriage had taken place; and I absolutely disclaim and repudiate all pretence to have acquired any rights whatever by virtue of such marriage” (page 527). Here, Mill repeats his distaste for the current laws. He scorns the idea that a man has the authority to take individual rights from another person, and he sets an example by giving up his new “rights”.


Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion brings to light an unusual form of discrimination. Within the first five pages, speech patterns have been used to identify every class—from a lowly flower girl to an upstanding gentleman. The syntax, pronunciation, and word choice of each character serve to divulge their upbringing. The character Henry Higgins claims even the most intelligent and lucky people cannot disguise their inherited class standing without strict tutoring on speech patterns. He claims, “This is an age of upstarts. Men begin in Kentish Town with [80 pounds??] a year, and end in Park Lane with a hundred thousand. They want to drop Kentish Town; but they give themselves away every time they open their mouths” (page 1013). For Higgins, people cannot change their social class without a change in dialect.

This requirement is remarkably similar today. While we may not be born into strict classes, children from wealthier families generally have better educational experiences. In the area I grew up in, you could listen to dropped vowels, mispronunciation, and use of slang to determine whether someone was native to Georgia, grew up in the city, or lived in the projects. I think there are probably more exceptions to Higgins’ rules today given the availability of education and the wide variety of people who make up each “class”.

However, I disagree with Higgins’ observation that people without the “proper” speech patterns are useless. He states, “A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon” (page 1013). His point here seems to be that everyone should speak to the best of their abilities. He sees English as a language of brilliant and wondrous possibilities. He mentions Shakespeare, Milton, and The Bible as examples of amazing works created in the English language. It seems as if the “disgusting” syllables Liza uses offend him. She makes no attempt to follow these great authors, and Higgins appears to view Liza’s speech as if it dishonors those works. He seems to expect people ought to work to speak as well as possible.

As admirable as that goal may be, I do not think correct pronunciation is of the upmost importance. For people like Liza who are born in disadvantaged circumstances, the focus is and should be on survival. Liza cannot eat and pay the rent without selling her flowers each day. In poor areas all over the world are people who work all day long just to feed their families. Time taken for lessons in proper speech detracts from any earnings the person may receive.

How do you decide what language is to the proper one to use? I find that many of the languages I am unfamiliar with have harsh and unpleasant sounds. What right does Higgins have to determine which language is best? To me, he values unreasonable priorities for poorer citizens and perpetuates the language stereotype by classifying people according to their accents.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain"

Hardy describes the Titanic as she is now by saying, “Jewels in joy designed / To ravish the sensuous mind / Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind” (lines 10-13). For Hardy, all the opulent details that made the Titanic a luxurious mode of transportation are now ruined by seawater and darkness. The sea swallows up all evidence of human vanity. Like in Byron’s “Apostrophe to the Ocean”, humans may be bold enough to think they can conquer the sea, but in time, the sea covers all evidence of their presence.

In Hardy’s poem, the fish ask, “’What does this vaingloriousness down here?’” (line 15). While Byron sees the sinking of ships and deaths of their passengers as a type of payback for the abuses humanity heaps on nature (see my blog on Byron!), Hardy seems to view the Titanic disaster as a result of fate and human vanity. Hardy’s reply to the fish is “while was fashioning / This creature of cleaving wing, / The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything / Prepared a sinister mate / For her—so gaily great— / A shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate” (lines 16-21). The “Immanent Will” seems to be much like fate in this case. As humans are creating this unsinkable pinnacle of modern machinery, fate is plotting unseen.

The iceberg seems to be both a source of balance and a mechanism that will teach men a lesson. As a balance, Hardy sets up the poem so that the iceberg and the ship are equals and opposites. He describes the iceberg as growing along with the ship, it’s “sinister mate”. However, he also describes the opposing natures of each object. The Titanic was designed by man “to ravish the sensuous mind” with mirrors, jewels, and warmth aplenty. The iceberg merely grows in the cold and “shadowy silent distance” (lines 24).

It also seems like the more presumptuous and vain humanity gets, the more fate acts to check that foolhardy behavior. Hardy writes, “And as the smart ship grew / In stature, grace, and hue, / In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too” (lines 22-24). The simultaneous development also adds to the idea that these are two parts of a whole fated to meet.

The combination of these parts makes the sinking of the Titanic into a warning for humanity—inevitably, as our arrogance and pride in our achievements grow, this “vaingloriousness” will be counteracted by fate. Humanity cannot become so assured of our power that we assume we are untouchable. There always exist outside forces—whether fate, a god, or merely weather phenomenon—that will destroy what man worked so hard to create. Overall, the message of this poem warns against excessive pride by citing an extreme example of the consequences.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Porphyria's Lover-R. Browning

I think Porphyria’s Lover could be read in many ways. For me, the most interesting thing is the contrast between the male and female characters. They seem to represent two completely different reactions to love. Porphyria embraces her feelings of love. She comes to comfort her lover even in the midst of a great storm, and she fills his home with warmth. Browning writes, “She shut the cold out and the storm, / And kneeled and made the cheerless grate / Blaze up, and all the cottage warm” (lines 7-9). She also works hard to comfort her lover and ends up confessing her love for him. The lover says, “She put my arm about her waist, / And made her smooth white shoulder bare, / And all her yellow hair displaced, / And, stooping, made my cheek lie there, / And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair, / Murmuring how she loved me” (lines 16-21).

After the confession of love, Porphyria’s lover finds himself with a choice to make. What should he do? He notes, “That moment she was mine, mine, fair, / Perfectly pure and good: I found / A thing to do, and all her hair / In one long yellow string wound / Three times her little throat around, / And strangled her” (lines 36-41).

Is he attempting to preserve her love by capturing it in that moment? Or is he simply rejecting it? Does his crime corrupt the purity of that love? Or does his act show the love to be one-sided? I think you could look at this portion in any number of ways. For me, the lover seems to care for her in some way, but his feelings are odd. He seems to feel he benefits as much in her death as he did receiving her love when she was alive. When she dies, he remarks, “I, its love, am gained instead” (line 55). He even sits with Porphyria for the remainder of the evening. What I cannot decide is what he thinks he accomplished. Has he preserved the feelings of the present? Did he prevent those feelings of love from changing by stopping time?

Was Porphyria a fool for giving in to love and feeling safe with this man? Was her lover a fool for ending her living affection? It seems to me that Porphyria and all she represents triumph in the end. Even after her lover has strangled her, he describes her features as beautiful: “again / Laughed the blue eyes without a stain. . . . / her cheek once more / Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss” (lines 44-48). These images mirror the comfort and warmth Porphyria brings him in the beginning of the poem. To me, it seems as if the signs of her love remain—even in killing her, her lover didn’t diminish that love. Was he a fool for trying?

I can’t say I understood every part of this. I know that I could have looked at this poem from a variety of angles, and I know that this could be analyzed in much greater depth. In the end, this poem left me with more questions than answers, but I think this is a good example of how Browning leaves messages and clues about the characters for us to sort out.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

In Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Book 5 of Aurora Leigh, Browning remarks on the human inclination to ignore what is right in front of them—especially in regards to human emotion and greatness. Browning is aware that many people view the past as a more glorious time filled with heroes and fair maidens. She seems to disapprove of the notion that modern society does not possess its own heroes and villains.

While these men and women are immortalized in poetry and mythology, they were not in reality immortal. The men grew old and died. The women faded away. Children were born and died. And life was just as messy as in the present. Browning writes, “And Hector’s infant whimpered at a plume / As yours last Friday at a turkey-cock. / All actual heroes are essential men, / And all men possible heroes” (lines 149-153). Browning sees beyond the story to the real life experiences of men and women, and she urges others to acknowledge both the good and the bad.

Browning extends this view of the past by suggesting we look at the present in a similar manner. She writes, “Nay, if there’s room for poets in this world / A little overgrown (I think there is), / Their sole work is to represent the age, / Their age, not Charlemagne’s, --this live, throbbing age, / that brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires, and spends more passion, more heroic heat, / Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms, / Than Roland with his knights at Roncesvalles” (lines 200-207). For Browning, the present is just as alive as the past. Life continues on a chaotic and emotional journey that needs recording.

I think Browning’s point is that people always seem to underestimate the value and the interest of their life experiences. Things you haven’t been a part of often sound more interesting. However, Browning forces readers to see that the passion and reality in humans from every era is worth chronicling.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tennyson's "Ulysses"

I would like to start out by saying that I had to memorize this in high school and did not like this poem one bit. Now, having stepped back from that horrific experience, I think this poem presents a very honest and in-depth view of yearning for something that cannot ever be reached. Tennyson’s "Ulysses" portrays a man past his prime longing for adventures like he had in his youth. It presents the story of a man who moves constantly from one thing to another but is never satisfied.

Some of Ulysses' comments are grounded firmly in reality. For example, he describes himself as “Match’d with an aged wife” (line 3)—suggesting he is aware that he is equally old. Unfortunately, he also feels that he is surrounded by people who do not understand him. Ulysses describes his countrymen as people who “know not me” (line 5). To me, it seems as if he also does not completely know himself.

Ulysses believes that although he is an old man, he still has the power to do good and honorable things. He states, “Old age hath yet his honor and his toil; / Death closes all: but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done” (lines 50-53). This belief that he has talents and strengths yet to be used combines with his strong yearning for adventure. This combination leads to him rationalizing away the barriers to his departure. For instance, he knows he cannot leave his kingdom without a leader but states that Telemachus would provide better leadership. Ulysses notes, “This is my son, mine own Telemachus, / To whom I leave the scepter and the isle / . . . by slow prudence to make mild / A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees / Subdue them to the useful and the good. / . . . He works his work, I mine” (lines 32-44). Ulysses sees his son’s strength as a leader and believes his own strength to be in pursuing noble adventures.

And yet, he seems always restless, never satisfied. Assuming this poem is meant to follow the adventures in tales like the Odyssey, Ulysses is never fully content with his position. In the Odyssey, much of his time is spent yearning to get home. Now that he is home, he yearns to return to the sea. He even describes himself in line 12 as “always roaming with a hungry heart”. Ulysses states, “Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ / Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades / For ever and for ever when I move” (lines 18-21). He sees the world as if there is always something better just a little beyond his reach. He seems to acknowledge this in some ways—he ends by describing himself as “strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (lines 69-70). But Ulysses seems to feel that his journeys and determination “to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western stars, until [he dies]” (lines 60-61) will be satisfactory.

I don’t think that will ever be enough. Ulysses is too restless and too intent on pursuing further adventures to ever be satisfied with the life he has. What drives this point home to me is the fact that he is finally united with his wife and son after years of longing for home—and he wants to leave again. Never mind that he missed out on raising his son. Forget that his wife was absolutely loyal and faithful in protecting his legacy while he was away. Ulysses will leave it all behind to chase a shadow on the horizon—and he doesn’t seem to realize it will never quench his yearning.

Industrial Revolution

When looking at the differences between the Romantic authors and the Victorian authors, it is interesting to compare Blake’s two “The Chimney Sweeper” poems and Mayhew’s “A Boy Crossing-Sweeper”. Considering the poems were written decades apart, there are far more similarities than differences in the social and economic status of the poor during the two periods.

Both Blake’s works are written as poems with similar rhyming schemes. Blake writes, “And by came an Angel who had a bright key, / And he open’d the coffins and set them all free. / Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run / And wash in a river and shine in the Sun” (page 81, lines13-16). This imagery is more fanciful than Mayhew’s, and Blake’s two poems interact to weave together elements of both hope and despair. Mayhew’s work is written in a more narrative form, and the story told by the crossing-sweeper is extremely bleak. For example, the boy ends his story by saying, “It’s awful cold, and gives us chilblains on our feet; but we don’t mind it when we’re working, for we soon gets hot then” (page 513). The only positive portion of the boy’s story is his belief that his sister would have kept him if she hadn’t married. However, what little hope or positive feelings that exist in these works are overpowered by the reality of the situations.

Overall, the stories are shockingly similar. Both boys work in horrifying conditions with little pay and none of the love and fun children ought to experience. Both boys are aware of how close they are to starvation or disease. The crossing-sweeper earns so little that he feels compelled to beg in addition to shoveling snow or sweeping. While the industrial revolution may have increased the numbers of children living like these sweepers, it is interesting to note that similar jobs existed during both time periods. The cause of the social problems and economic disparity was not the industrial revolution. The increase in industry merely exacerbated a preexisting problem.

For this reason, it seems to me that the two time periods are more alike than they are different. Obviously, technology, demographics, and lifestyles were changed with the industrial revolution. However, the underlying social, economic, and political characteristics that made up England could not have changed too drastically if the images of England’s raggedy children remain the same. For example, Blake wrote, “They clothed me in the clothes of death, / And taught me to sing the notes of woe” (page 89, lines 7-8). These rags, hardships, and pain are echoed by Mayhew, who writes, “When we gets home at half-past three in the morning, whoever cries out ‘first wash’ has it. First of all we washes our feet, and we all uses the same water. . . . Very often the stones cuts our feet and makes them bleed; then we bind a bit of rag around them” (page 513). The image on page 511 further exemplifies the social conditions and problems observed by both Blake and Mayhew —and it could have been drawn in either time period.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Carlyle's "Midas"

In Carlyle’s first two sentences, he shares with us his innermost fears about England’s future. He writes, “The condition of England, on which many pamphlets are now in the course of publication, and many thoughts unpublished are going on in every reflective head, is justly regarded as one of the most ominous, and withal one of the strangest, ever seen in this world. England is full of wealth, of multifarious produce, supply for human want in every kind; yet England is dying of inanition” (page 477). According to Merriam-Webster, inanition is “the quality or state of being empty” either as a result of starvation or through “the absence or loss of social, moral, or intellectual vitality”. In his defense of this idea, Carlyle completely skips commenting on citizens who are weak or lame. He tells us that even the most successful and the most able-bodied men are relegated to workhouses and Poor-law Prisons. He describes 1,200,000 workers sitting idle, “their hopes, outlooks, share of this fair world, shut-in by narrow walls. They sit there, pent up, as in a kind of horrid enchantment; glad to be imprisoned and enchanted, that they may not perish starved” (page 478). Carlyle forces readers to ask what kind of life these workers are living. Is wealth worth all of this hardship? Carlyle writes, “This successful industry of England, with its plethoric wealth, has as yet made nobody rich” (page 479). “In the midst of plethoric plenty, the people perish; with gold walls, and full barns, no man feels himself safe or satisfied” (page 480). Carlyle uses examples of the wealthy sick from eating rich foods and the poor sick from lack of food. He writes of dissatisfaction with working conditions and the desertion of moral values in the face of both poverty and excess.

Using the story of Midas, Carlyle’s tale ends with an unsettling warning: getting what we want most may lead to our ultimate downfall. Carlyle sees very little benefit from the accumulation of wealth in England. Instead, he sees starvation, neglected morals, wasted intelligence, and a widening social gap. England’s inanition is seen in the faces of every citizen and the covers of every newspaper. And so Carlyle cautions us against the lure of wealth.

Unfortunately, we have not heeded this warning. Some progress may have been made with the institution of child labor laws and improvement of working conditions in some countries, but we continue to pursue wealth. While religious teachers of all denominations urge us to tithe and to share wealth among our communities and the poor, our societies strive to horde wealth and status. Hundreds of years later, we still have wealthy celebrities and politicians bored, unsatisfied, and getting into trouble. We still have poor families starving and unable to pay the rent. Perhaps Carlyle was right to question the grip wealth has on humanity—it seems like this goal is very hard to let go, and if we continue to lust after wealth, our future may be the ominous one Carlyle anticipated.

A Visit to Newgate

The idea that struck me as most horrifying in Dickens’ “A Visit to Newgate” is the physical, moral, and mental decay of the innocent in society. In a time where millions worked in menial jobs in order to buy scraps of bread, hunger and desperation were the norm. All of the factories and coal mines developed to ease the lives of the wealthy promoted cheap labor and long hours for the poor. In addition to malnutrition, many young children developed rickets because they had no exposure to sunlight in the working world. The fact that these children turned to thievery and violence in order to assuage their hunger and pay the rent cannot be surprising.

And yet, society punished these children alongside the worst of offenders. In addition, the children who were left free were perhaps less lucky than those incarcerated. For example, Dickens writes,

In one corner of this singular-looking den, was a yellow, haggard, decrepit old woman, in a tattered gown that had once been black, and the remains of an old straw bonnet, with faded ribbon of the same hue, in earnest conversation with a young girl—a prisoner, of course—of about two-and-twenty. It is impossible to imagine a more poverty-stricken object, or a creature so borne down in soul and body, by excess of misery and destitution, as the old woman. The girl was a good-looking, robust female, with a profusion of hair streaming about in the wind— for she had no bonnet on—and a man’s silk pocket-handkerchief loosely thrown over a most ample pair of shoulders. The old woman was talking in that low, stifled tone of voice which tells so forcibly of mental anguish; and every now and then burst into an irrepressible sharp, abrupt cry of grief, the most distressing sound that ears can hear. The girl was perfectly unmoved. Hardened beyond all hope of redemption, she listened doggedly to her mother’s entreaties, whatever they were. (page 3)

This passage seems to suggest the girl in Newgate is in better condition than her mother. Physically, she is fed daily, gets adequate rest, and lives free of industrialized labor. Emotionally, she is hardened by her experiences—we do not know whether it is her time in jail or her life before prison that changed her. Her mother, however, is physically and emotionally falling apart. She continues to feel the strain of dealing with her role in society. The image of this woman is echoed in a young girl who visits her mother in prison. Dickens describes her lack of emotion in a manner similar to that of the girl already in prison.

The girl was thinly clad, and shaking with the cold. Some ordinary word of recognition passed between her and her mother when she appeared at the grating, but neither hope, condolence, regret, nor affection was expressed on either side. The mother whispered her instructions, and the girl received them with her pinched-up, half-starved features twisted into an expression of careful cunning. (page 4)

This child not only shows evidence of emotional damage, but she suffers physically as well. Whether this girl will become like the old woman or the girl in prison is unclear. What is obvious is that in the industrial society Dickens describes, ending up in prison is not the worst fate a child can suffer. If anything, this work ought to make readers question whether or not they want to live in a society where prison may be the best option for a child. Would you be comfortable knowing your child’s best option would be a life in prison?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Knowing Shelley and the other second generation poets were influenced by events such as the Battle of Waterloo, I think it is interesting to look at Ozymandias as if it were a political commentary. After Waterloo, European citizens returned to being ruled predominately by kings and the church. Ideas of liberty and revolution were less accepted, and the monarchy was in chaos led by a crazed king and an extravagant prince regent.

Ozymandias is thought to be the pharaoh Moses challenged in the Bible. Much like Moses challenged the power and legitimacy of Ozymandias, the traveler’s story challenges the power of the pharaoh’s statue. Shelley writes, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. . . . Near them on the sand, / Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, / whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, / Tell that its sculptor well those passions read / Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things” (lines 1-7). The traveler’s words lack reverence for the dead king but heap respect on the sculptor’s skill. It is interesting that in the time of Ozymandias, the pharaoh’s temperament was highly visible to those around him. His sneering character and personality flaws were prominent in his day and are how he is remembered in ours. The suggestion that Ozymandias’ personality flaws “yet survive” could also be a commentary on the personalities of the monarchs in Shelley’s day. Oddly, while the poem shows the legacy Ozymandias’ personality left across history, the poem also seems to suggest this legacy may end. The traveler seems to suggest the statue is in a transitional phase—much as the European governments were in Shelley’s day.

For the traveler, all that remains of the power of Ozymandias is two legs, part of a face, and a pedestal reading “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: / Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” (lines 10-11). In the days in which Ozymandias lived, his monuments and buildings would have symbolized his power and command over his people. People may have felt despair at the realization they would never equal his power. Now, seeing all of that power broken down and erased by nature and time, the word despair has entirely different connotations. As if the pharaoh’s current state were not bad enough, the traveler suggests Ozymandias’ downfall is not yet complete. He notes, “Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare, / The lone and level sands stretch far away” (lines 12-15). Around the fallen statue, the sands are level. The sands are not roughly covering the pharaoh’s legacy. They have smoothed over the rest of his once great empire. This image subtly suggests changes will continue. Eventually, Ozymandias will not even be a blot on the horizon. Time will have erased him from sight and the last remnants of his power will be gone.

Based on the history and the political events of Shelley’s day, this poem seems to suggest that all of the power and flaws of the monarchies will one day be erased. To me, the poem suggests the view that although progress and public perspectives remain mixed at the time the poem is written, the future will embrace the views of liberty and equality among men. The days of kings and pharaohs are ending, and the traveler brings a message of defeat for the kings and hope for Europe’s future.

Byron's "Apostrophe to the Ocean"

In the section entitled “Apostrophe to the Ocean” on page 364, Byron does his best to explain the overwhelming power and justice of the ocean. While he acknowledges his inability to fully describe these characteristics, he also proclaims the truth of his statements. He writes, “ . . . I steal / From all I may be, or have been before, / To mingle with the Universe, and feel / What I can ne’er express, yet can not all conceal” (lines 1599-1602). He describes leaving behind his previous self—somewhat like shedding a skin—and looking with honesty at the truth of things or the things which cannot be concealed. He writes of facts that cannot be hidden either through intentional disguises or through a lack of appropriate words.

Byron appears to be rejecting the falseness of men, the claims of human dominance, and the fa├žade of civilization. Byron looks at the works of men that were designed to conquer lesser things and sees failure and pretence. He writes, “Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain; / Man marks the earth with ruin—his control / Stops with the shore” (lines 1604-1606). Byron acknowledges activities of humans such as deforestation and mining to create cities do indeed change the shape and workings of the earth, but he notes that nothing man has built can yet conquer the sea. The ships men build traverse the ocean “in vain”. Ships can cross the sea but not change it. The moment ships pass, the ocean wipes away all traces of their passage. Even more interesting is the fact that men build ships around the demands of the sea. Humans bow to the demands of the ocean when designing the shape of the hull or the on board equipment. The ocean gives no quarter—its demands and characteristics are omnipotent even as humanity changes forms around it. For example, “in all time, / Calm or convulsed—in breeze, or gale, or storm, / Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime / Dark-heaving;--boundless, endless, and sublime— / The image of Eternity—the throne / Of the Invisible; even from out thy slime / The monsters of the deep are made; each zone / Obeys thee” (lines 1640-1647). In these descriptions, the form and appearance of the ocean may change with the weather, but the ocean always wins out over creatures formed from the deep. This segment could be read as if Byron references the birth of man from evolutionary changes in the ocean; in which case, we would be the monsters “[marking] the earth with ruin”. Or, Byron could simply refer to all the animals and plants subject to the raging seas and icy temperatures. Regardless, the ocean controls everything around it.

Byron further comments on the ocean’s supremacy by stating, “upon thy watery plain / The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain / A shadow of man’s revenge, save his own, / When for a moment, like a drop of rain, / He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan, / Without a grave, unknell’d, uncoffin’d, and unknown” (lines 1606-1611). Usually, the grave marker, coffin, and bells would all represent celebration, reverence, and respect for a life well lived or for a man/woman well loved or well respected. Here, the sunken ships as well as their captains receive none of these common observances. And yet, this lack seems to complete Byron’s observations in a just manner. Byron begins this section detailing the lack of respect and reverence humanity shows for the earth. The earth and its creatures suffer endless abuses at the hands of humanity. It seems only fitting that humanity experiences the same in the embrace of the ocean. Ultimately, Byron shows not only the ocean’s infinite power over man but also the ocean’s ability to enact justice for the abuses nature suffers.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dorothy Wordsworth

Unlike Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”, Dorothy Wordsworth’s “Thoughts on My Sick-bed” presents a positive message for those experiencing illness. Instead of chronicling her illness and resulting depression, Wordsworth’s message is one of hope even in bad times. Wordsworth’s poem also offers a method for escaping the gloom that can arise when confined to a bed.

Wordsworth’s poem begins by describing an inner light that remains even after illness has ravaged her body. She writes, “Ah! Say not so—the hidden life / Couchant within this feeble frame / Hath been enriched by kindred gifts, / That, undesired, unsought-for, came” (lines 4-7). For her, even laying in a feeble state, she perceives gifts and positive events in her life. She writes of occasions “when loving Friends an offering brought” (line 33) or “when spring-time in rock, field, or bower / was but a fountain of earthly hope” (line 27). It is not always clear whether these events are still occurring or are merely memories, but the narrator’s viewpoint remains mostly positive. In the last four lines, Wordsworth offers up her secret; “No need of motion, or of strength, / Or even the breathing air: / --I thought of Nature’s loveliest scenes; / And with memory I was there” (line 49-52). For her, memories of better times seem to sustain her.

Whether or not the memories explain the difference in Wordsworth and Coleridge’s viewpoints, it seems like Coleridge spends much more time focused on the present—and all the pain and despondency that comes with it. For me, the comparison of these two poems provides an interesting look into two paths that people can take when experiencing long-term illness. The poems also raise the question of whether or not the way you look at memories and the present times influences long-term mental health. Based on the two authors, it seems to me like focusing on the present and the pain of illness can exacerbate health problems, whereas Dorothy’s more positive memory-based outlook seems to maintain her level of health.

Dejection: An Ode

While “Dejection: An Ode” is ostensibly written as a description of thoughts evoked by an approaching storm, the poem also provides an overwhelmingly accurate description of the course and symptoms of depression. According to the book, by the time this poem was written, Coleridge was experiencing depression, and his condition is reflected in the wording and plot of “Dejection”. This ode is aptly named; it provides an in-depth view of the emotions experienced by sufferers of depression.

As a psychological disorder, depression can be most accurately described by a general sense of apathy—toward everything. Foods do not taste as good, activities are less appealing, and emotions are stifled. These feelings are pervasive and lead to people closing themselves away from the world-both physically and mentally. What is interesting about depression is that it is so hard for someone who has not either had it or studied it to understand. Often people who have the disease cannot adequately convey the intense effects depression has physically, mentally, and emotionally. This ode gives a face to the disease and offers a glimpse into the complex feelings and changes that make up “dejection”.

In the first ten lines, Col warns readers of a storm that will overtake the tranquility of the night (lines 2-6). He uses words such as unaroused, sobbing, and moans to describe the coming changes. He goes on to describe “a grief without a pang” and “no relief” (lines 21-23). The emotions Col describes are stark, unrelenting, and unipolar. The night once marked by tranquility gives way to one that leaves the author unaffected. Coleridge writes in lines 38-46, “I see, not feel how beautiful they are! / My genial spirits fail; / And what can these avail / To lift the smothering weight from off my breast? / It were a vain endeavor, / Though I should gaze forever / On that green light that lingers in the west: / I may not hope from outward forms to win / The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.” Here, Coleridge describes the inability to feel the passion of these objects. He can see beauty and knows of the life within the natural forms, but he cannot process and appreciate the sights before him.

Coleridge goes on to describe the changes necessary to reach a point where one completely lacks interest in the outside world. He theorizes that the soul emits a light with “ a sweet and potent voice” (lines 53-58). He calls this light “joy” and uses it to show the progression of his battle with dejection. Coleridge writes, “There was a time when, though my path was rough, / This joy within me dallied with distress, / And all misfortunes were but as the stuff / Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness: / For hope grew round me, like the twining vine, / And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine” (lines 76-81). Like an advancing army, the feelings of distress war with joy initially—only to have an innate joy win out. However, many such skirmishes occur and wear down the narrator until all that remains is “Reality’s dark dream”. He writes in lines 82-94, “ But now afflictions bow me down to earth: / Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth, / But oh! Each visitation / Suspends what nature gave me at my birth, . . . / Till that which suits a part infects the whole.” This progression from a life filled with both joys and troubles into a life dominated by grief and afflictions perfectly captures changes one would experience when sliding gradually into depression.

William Wordsworth

Much like his insistence on using language accessible to the common man or woman, Wordsworth consistently writes about common people. Most often, Wordsworth connects his characters with nature. In “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey”, Wordsworth describes the interaction between nature and humanity. For him, nature never disappoints. He writes, “Knowing that Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her . . . she can so inform / The mind that is within us, so impress / With quietness and beauty, and so feed / With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues, / Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men, . . . / Shall e’er prevail against us” (lines124-134). For Wordsworth, if men and women take care of nature and appreciate its gifts, nature cannot fail to protect mankind from disappointment and selfishness.

At the same time, nature helps to reveal the complexity Wordsworth sees in common people. Many of his poems reveal a range of commonly felt emotions under distinctive circumstances and in unusual combinations. On page 206, Wordsworth claims his purpose is to appeal to the common reader in both the language and the experiences described in his poems while also using “a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way”. Wordsworth believes the “essential passions of the heart” are more comprehensible and simpler in the common man due to a commoner’s closeness to nature and removal from societal conventions. Because the poor are focused on survival and raising families on a daily basis, Wordsworth is able to describe emotions that fluctuate and arise independent of many of society’s influences. For example, the roles of the family described in “Michael” are dictated only by what each member is capable of doing, and their emotions are not subject to the fashions of society. The extreme remoteness of the farm removes most of these outside influences and allows for examination of basic emotions.

However, being subject to fewer outside influences does not equate to simple emotions. As a psych major, I think Wordsworth’s attempt at showing the variation and complexity of human emotion is fascinating. Environmental influences, relationships, history, and current circumstances all affect the emotions captured in Wordsworth’s work. Perhaps the best example of this occurs when Wordsworth describes Michael and Isabel preparing to send Luke away. The parents experience what all parents suffer through before sending a child away—hope, fear, sadness, and determination for a better future. These emotions shift throughout the course of the poem. Initially, Michael’s love of the land and desire to give his son a brighter future drive his actions; he declares, “Our Luke shall leave us, Isabel; the land / Shall not go from us, and it shall be free; / He shall possess it” (lines 254-256). Isabel recalls past stories (lines 267-283) and becomes hopeful for her son’s future. Lines 300-311 show the parents’ feelings of confidence and hope warring with their anxiety over losing their son. The emotions experienced by the family mix together, change, and grow stronger throughout the poem, combining to weave a complex web of emotions.

Wordsworth extends this theme in the complex interactions between the passage of time and human emotion. He leaves many of these interactions open-ended; the exact feelings of the narrator are unknown. For example, in “She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways”, Wordsworth notes the death of a person with little influence on the outside world but with great personal importance to the narrator. He says, “She liv’d unkown, and few could know / When Lucy ceas’d to be; / But she is in her Grave, and Oh! / The difference to me!” (lines 9-12). These statements point to both the storytelling elements of small events as well as different human interpretations of them. For a reader, the death may not be important. To the narrator, Lucy’s death would have been deeply felt. In addition, the characters Michael and Simon both experience a loss of stamina over the course of many years. The emotions that occur with aging and death are complex, and Wordsworth shows each character experiencing them differently. For him, a single event has extremely varied effects depending on one’s viewpoint—WHICH IS ABSOLUTELY REALISTIC! All of these perfectly fit Wordsworth’s goal of exploring the range of human emotions in an honest and everyday way.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The French Revolution

After reading through each of the works regarding the French revolution, it is interesting to me that so many of them focus on distribution of property and power over others. Considering these pieces were written in a time when the Christian religions were extremely influential in politics as well as daily life, the articles spend very little time focusing on compassion and concern for others. Occasional references to slavery and the mistreatment of lower classes are completely overshadowed by issues of property and tradition in the main argument of Burke’s writings. However, he preys upon human compassion in his descriptions of the atrocities committed during the revolution (p. 51). He describes the change from light and life among the royal family to a life of darkness and death in prison. Based on this single example, he declares chivalry and the most ancient and revered traditions of Europe have died as a result of the revolution. He does not comment on the death and darkness experienced throughout the rest of France.

Interestingly, the supporters of the revolution exhibit far more consideration for the people of the country. They look at the sacrifice of the royalty as a tragedy but a tragedy incomparable to those suffered daily by the general population. Wollstonecraft writes of Burke, “ your tears are reserved . . . for the downfall of queens, whose rank . . . throws a graceful veil over vices that degrade humanity; whilst the distress of many industrious mothers, whose helpmates have been torn from them, and the hungry cry of helpless babes, were vulgar sorrows that could not move your commiseration, though they might extort an alms” (p.59). For Wollstonecraft, consideration of the poor, the abandoned, and the charity cases overwhelms any consideration of property. She succinctly dismisses Burke’s concerns by stating, “it is only the property of the rich that is secure; the man who lives by the sweat of his brow has no asylum from oppression” (p.59).

Wollstonecraft also dismisses the idea that charity from the rich can improve the plight of the poor. She reasons that equality and relationships built on “respect for justice and humanity” (p.58) are the only way to improve lives. “It is not by squandering alms that the poor can be relieved, or improved—it is the fostering sun of kindness, the wisdom that finds them employments calculated to give them habits of virtue, the meliorates their condition” (Wollstonecraft, p.63). The inequalities she notes among the monarchs and the citizens of France continue unabated around the world. The faces of wealth and poverty have changed, but the nature of it remains the same.

In many countries in Africa today, charity work is aimed at improvements akin to what Burke claims to be of upmost importance—property and correcting who holds the power. And yet work among the citizens of these countries shows that the greatest improvements in communities occur through relationships built by equal people that target job and industry improvements the poor can maintain on their own. For this reason, I think Burke’s argument focuses on the wrong issues. Even after several hundred years, lives are improved through relationships and equality among people—not through rules concerning the distribution of power and property.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blake's Chimney Sweeper

To me, the most captivating aspect of Blake’s work is the interplay of good and evil, innocence and experience, and light and dark. Blake categorizes his poems as either “songs of innocence” or “songs of experience”—yet there are elements of both innocence and experience in each poem.

In “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence, Blake describes children experiencing death, slavery and filth on a daily basis (p. 81). Despite this, Tom Dacre possesses the same hope and dauntless encouragement most children exhibit. He dreams of an angel with keys to a better life and believes he will one day be delivered from his “coffin”. This knowledge allows Tom to go about his job feeling “happy and warm”. It seems like Tom’s innocent hope trumps the pain of his real-life experiences. The overall tone is one of comfort and hope for the child—a bit of light to get through the darker times.

In “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Experience, the child’s display of innocence despite his tragic situation perpetuates the continued sale of children and the lack of awareness in the adults around him. Blake writes, “And because I am happy & dance & sing, / They think they have done me no injury: / And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King / Who make up a heaven of our misery.” This poem focuses more on the consequences of childhood innocence, and the fact that outward displays of happiness do not always coincide with actual contentment. This happiness has a darker element to it. The happiness is sad to a reader looking over the situation; the reader can step back and see the happiness is built on a false sense of hope and will most likely result in the eventual death of the child and the continued enslavement of other children. In addition, not only are the parents and the employers either ignoring or ignorant of the truth, but the entire city allows these children to work in deplorable conditions for the city’s comfort.

Friday, May 20, 2011


My name is Sarah, and I am a senior. The most exciting thing I've ever done is go to Kenya last summer on a mission trip (that's where the photo was taken--I am second from the left). I have two younger sisters and a rambunctious dog named Luke. I love art and crafty things. I am majoring in Psychology, participating in the honors program, and minoring in art and business administration. I have tons of classes left, and I am taking this class over the summer so that I can graduate in time next May! I am also taking this class because it is online and staying on campus over the summer is VERY boring.

This summer, I am working, taking the GRE, completing two general education requirements, figuring out grad school, and traveling. I don't yet know how to work around the scheduled chats when I am out of town or working... I've never taken an online class before and am not sure how this will work, but I was very excited to see that our textbook has pictures! In my opinion, any course based on a textbook with pictures can't be too bad!